The near sacrifice of Isaac—the Aqedah (עקידה) or “Binding” of Isaac in Jewish tradition—is a time of testing for Abraham. Yet the Hebrew patriarch is not the only one to undergo such a test; Joseph also encounters his own test that mirrors that of his great-grandfather. The author of the Joseph Novella (Genesis 37-50) presents the protagonist’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife as a trial reminiscent of the Aqedah. The similarities in these stories show that the same God who called Abram in Genesis 12 remains with Joseph at the end of Genesis, and that testing is a necessary part of being the Lord’s chosen people.
Scripture introduces the episode between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife with these words: “And it was after these things (ויהי אחר הדברים האלה; vayehi achar ha’devarim ha’eleh) [that Potiphar’s] wife… lifted up her eyes to Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’” (Gen 39:7). This introduction restates the opening of the Aqedah: “And it was after these things (ויהי אחר הדברים האלה; vayehi achar ha’devarim ha’eleh) [that] God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham,’ and he said, ‘Here I am’” (Gen 22:1). More, the word for God “testing” Abraham is נסה (nasah), which sounds very much like נשׂא (nisa), the word for Potiphar’s wife “lifting up” her eyes to Joseph. To replicate the resonance in Hebrew, Genesis 22 begins, “And it was after these things nasah…” and the encounter with Potiphar’s wife begins, “And it was after these things nisa….” The author of the Joseph story provides a Hebrew wordplay that draws the reader back to the testing of Abraham.
The Joseph narrative also shares other language with the Aqedah. When Potiphar’s wife propositions Joseph, he responds that her husband “has not withheld (חשׂך; chasak) anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). Before the Joseph Novella, the Hebrew for “withhold” only appears with reference to events involving Abraham—most prominently during the Aqedah, when the angel of the Lord tells him, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear the Lord because you have not withheld (חשׂך; chasak) your son, your only one, from me” (Gen 22:12; cf. 22:16; 20:6).
A final echo of the Aqedah appears when Potiphar’s wife tells her husband, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to mock (לצחק; l’tsacheq) me” (Gen 39:17; cf. 39:14). The Hebrew word for “mock” (also translated “laugh”) is צחק (tsachaq)—the very word from which we get the name “Isaac” (יצחק; Yitschaq; cf. Gen 21:5-6). These multiple linguistic parallels between the Joseph narrative and the Aqedah highlight the fact that Joseph’s experiences rerun those of his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac. Just as God tested Abraham, Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife is also a test and, like Abraham, Joseph passes his test by refusing the illicit proposition. In this way, Genesis’ early Hebrew history begins (with Abraham) the same way that it ends (with Joseph)—with each individual passing tests that underscore their continued devotion to God.